Meal Planning With a Slow Cooker

Want to save time and money? Meal planning with a slow cooker can save time and money and provide your family with a well-balanced, healthy and nutritious meal.

Benefits of using a slow cooker

The benefits of a slow cooker are numerous. You can use it any time of year by changing ingredients to suit the season. Roast beef with carrots and potatoes or a thick, hearty stew lend themselves to cold, wintry days. Lighter dishes like chicken and corn are perfect for summer afternoons and also have the added benefit of not heating up the kitchen. Spending a few minutes in the morning preparing your slow-cooker meal will result in a house that smells wonderful and homey at dinnertime, and it saves you from a rush of food preparation and dirty dishes.

Meat

Begin planning your slow-cooker meal by choosing the meat you will be serving. Inexpensive cuts work well in the slow cooker, which is a plus if you're on a tight budget. Meat that's cooked low and slow for several hours comes out tender and falls right off the bone. You do not usually need to coat a slow cooker with nonstick spray unless a recipe specifically calls for it. Place the meat in the bottom of the cooker and add a small amount of liquid. Chicken or beef broth are more flavorful than water, but you can also use other liquids, such as pasta sauce. When adding cold meat to the slow cooker, the appliance must also be cold. Adding cold meat to a preheated slow cooker can cause the ceramic container to crack.

Seasonings

After you've placed the meat in the slow cooker, season it with salt, pepper, herbs and spices according to your taste. For Italian flair, use basil and oregano. Sprinkle chili flakes to kick up the heat. Five-spice powder is ideal for an Asian-style dish.

Vegetables

Once the meat is seasoned, add vegetables around and over it. Avoid filling the cooker to the brim; the lid should fit securely. Root vegetables like potatoes, onions and carrots cook well, but you can also choose other vegetables, like corn or green beans. You can even combine leftover vegetables in creative ways to make a soup or stew. If you prefer, add the vegetables to the cooker first and place the meat on top of them so that the meat drippings flavor the vegetables during cooking.

Complete your meal

Turn the slow cooker on low and set it for six to eight hours. If you're in a rush, you can turn the cooker on high for three to four hours. To round out a meal, incorporate a starch by making noodles or rice separately just before serving. Or, if there's enough liquid in the dish you're preparing, you can also add the noodles or rice to the slow cooker during the last hour of cooking. The latter method will result in a meal that is more of a soup or a stew.

Incorporating one slow-cooker meal each week into your family's meal planning can save you time and money, and it will allow the cook of the house to practice creative skills in the kitchen.

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